Let’s Get Practical

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The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo offered during a “Good Heart Retreat”

How can we possibly move in the direction of encouraging spiritual centers, churches, whatever, to take responsibility for the community around them without prejudice and without distinction? Let’s say, as Buddhists, we would be interested in the welfare of the Baptists in Poolesville, or the Catholics or the Jews, or anybody, or the people that don’t have religion. What kind of plan would it take? What would we have to implement to encourage that? What kind of power could you wield to get the attention of other spiritual organizations to ask them to join you in participating? Relatively speaking, we’re the new kids on the block. I mean who’s going to listen to us? If they were going to listen to anybody, they’d probably listen to the big religious names in this country, whatever they are. So why would they listen to us? Well, actually, I think about the worst thing that we could do is preach about it. I think that if we do that we’ll never be able to accomplish our goal. It seems to me that the best way to try something like that is quietly and humbly, and maybe even invisibly. Slowly, slowly, slowly. Simply finding ways to take care of your community.

I found out a couple of years ago that there was a family in Poolesville, just two people that one of my sons told me about, a mother and a son; and they had nothing to share with each other for Christmas. They were the kind of family where they have money for the electric bill and a certain amount for groceries, a certain amount for rent; and beyond that there is no discretionary income. So there was no way to save up for Christmas, which here is so abundant. You know, we’re not even Christians and we’re so abundant with Christmas. We love it. We think it’s a beautiful holiday, and we love the spirit of it, and we give each other gifts, and that sort of thing. But here were people who couldn’t even celebrate their own religious holiday, except in a spiritual way, I guess, for they had literally nothing to give one another. And so, actually, I’m not saying this to pin any medals on myself, but the reason why I’m telling you this is because it was easy for me to do. It was like no big deal. I had a bunch of stuff. One thing I’ve got a lot of is stuff. Stuff comes to me. I don’t know how stuff comes to me, but it comes to me a lot. Particularly, the little crystal candy dishes. For some reason, for years and years and years, my Sangha would give me crystal candy dishes. I have enough crystal candy dishes to supply an entire crystal store. So I have stuff, and I’m deeply appreciative of all the gifts that I get and I say thank you very much, put it away for somebody else, because someday I’m able to share some of that with others. It doesn’t mean you don’t get the merit. You all still get the merit, don’t worry. In fact, you get more merit.

So I put together a package of stuff for this family, and I was able to share some of the gifts that we had that we didn’t really need. And it just also so happens that this woman was the same size as I am, so I gave her a lot of clothes. So that was really great, and what happened was these people came and they spent some time with us. The karma’s not there for them to become Buddhist, but I was never expecting that. I don’t care. What I do care about was for them to be touched by a little bit of love and to look at our community and say, ‘Wow!’ Now that’s something, isn’t it? That’s something—to take care of a family in your community because they don’t have something and you do. That’s a powerful statement. You don’t have to talk about it. You certainly don’t have to preach about it. You simply have to do it.

Not all of us have a lot of stuff like me. You may not have that glorious karma that invites all those candy dishes or ducks into your house. I used to get ducks a lot, too. One of my teachers used to call me Duckie. So I got ducks you wouldn’t believe. All kinds of ducks. You may not be fortunate enough to have stuff like that, but supposing you knew how to get it. Supposing you had friends that had stuff. Or supposing you had connections with stuff. Or supposing you had an abundance of courage to where you could walk around to people that have more and say, ‘Would you share with the people that have less? Would you help us with this? We’d like you to know that your neighbor a few doors away is not having such an easy time. Would you help us with this?’ Just a simple request, yes or no. All they have to say is no if they don’t want to do it. What if we thought that way as a community? And what if we made no secret of the fact that we intend to take care of this piece of the world? You know, we could start a trend. It’s interesting to me that if you look at the media now and you look at films, you look at books, you look at what’s in the news, what’s noteworthy, Buddhism actually has become quite a fad. Who’d a thunk it! It’s become quite popular. The movie stars and the musicians are liking it now. You know what that means! We’re in.

What if this idea became a trend? It’s not so unthinkable that this could happen. Being not at all practical, being a little dumb about how things work in the world, I don’t see any reason why not. Don’t bust my bubble. I don’t want to hear that ‘no way to get there from here’ crap. What if our community could be a visible presence, like a visible good heart, that all could partake of? We’re talking about overcoming the poisons in our own mind-stream. We’re talking about demonstrating the Buddha’s teachings, the Buddha’s statement of the equality of all that lives, of the need for all beings to be happy, of their difficulty in attaining happiness. What would be so tragic about walking our talk? Why couldn’t we do this?

It seems to me that people of another faith might not be interested in giving to a Buddhist temple. Why should they? They’re doing their thing, and we’re doing our thing. Everybody’s so separate. Wouldn’t it be something if a number of community churches and temples could gather together and make some kind of non-profit organization through which funds could be funneled to mutually benefit and blanket the entire community without regard to race or religion? I don’t think it’s so impossible. The thing is there have already been studies that have shown us that in this country alone, there’s enough money to feed the world. Poverty doesn’t have to exist. We have the power now, immediately. What if the Buddhists in this country became available, really available to their community? And what if it started a trend? And what if it continued and grew?

I’d like to see that happen. And what I would like to do is to have some of you who are inclined to perhaps think of some different plans, ways to work stuff like this out. Let’s start toying with the idea. Let’s start playing with it a little bit, just to see what we can come up with. Let’s find ways that we can be available to our community without discrimination, and without ever requiring of anyone that they change their religion or anything like that. Let’s just think that as a spiritual people, as a spiritual community, the buck stops here. To me that is one of the most outrageous and gorgeous dreams that we could aspire to together. I think it’s really cool. If there’s any reason why it can’t be done, please don’t tell me, because I want to fly just like the bumblebee. I don’t want to hear it.

So let’s start tossing that idea around as a spiritual community. We have smart people here. How many of you are professional smart people in this group? Come on, don’t be shy. Okay, so you professional smart people, I’m kind of dumb. I don’t know anything very much. I don’t know too much about this world, so you’re going to have to find a way for dumb little old me to express this dream. You people who know about organizing stuff, which if any of you looked at my closets, you know I don’t know anything about it. You know about organizing stuff and you know about making foundations and you know about talking to other people, and you know about what kinds of formats we could use to spread this idea. So as part of your good heart effort on a communal level, why don’t we start thinking like this? Start pushing this idea around; start playing with it a little bit. Let’s build a big fantasy about this, and let’s do it. What could happen except we go broke? We’ve been broke for so long we wouldn’t even notice. Hey, I’ll sell my candy dishes. But I’m just dumb enough to not know why we can’t do this. And so I think that, as usual, I have the dumb, impractical, unrealistic idea and you get to make it happen.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

 

The Perfection of Generosity: From “The Jewel Ornament of Liberation”

The following is respectfully quoted from “The Jewel Ornament of Liberation” by Gampopa, as translated by Khenpo Konchog Gyaltsen Rinpoche:

Six subjects describe the details of action bodhicitta. The summary:

Reflection on the faults and virtues
Definition, classification,
Increase, perfection, and
Result —
These seven comprise the perfection of generosity.

I. Reflection on the Faults and Virtues. Those who have not practiced generosity will always suffer from poverty and usually will be reborn as a hungry ghost. Even if reborn as a human and so forth, they will suffer from poverty and a lack of necessities. The Condensed Perfection of Wisdom Sutra says:

The miserly will be born in the hungry ghost realm.
In case they are born human, at that time they will suffer from poverty.

The Discourse on Discipline says:

The hungry ghost replied to Nawa Chewari,
“By the power of stinginess.
We did not practice any generosity.
So, we are here in the world of hungry ghosts.”

Without the practice of generosity, we cannot benefit others and, so, cannot achieve enlightenment. it is said:

Without the practice of generosity, one will have no wealth.
So, without wealth one cannot gather sentient beings,
To say nothing of achieving enlightenment.

On the other hand, one who practices generosity will have happiness through wealth in all different lifetimes. The Condensed Perfection of Wisdom Sutra says:

The generosity of bodhisattvas cuts off rebirth as a hungry ghost.
Likewise, poverty and all the afflicting emotions are cut off.
By acting well, one will achieve infinite wealth while in the bodhisattva’s life.

Also, the Letter to a Friend says:

One should practice generosity properly.
There is no better relative than generosity.

Again, one who practices generosity can benefit others. With generosity, one can gather trainees and then establish them in the precious Dharma. It is said:

By the practice of generosity, one can fully mature sentient
beings who are suffering.

Again, it is easier for one who has practiced generosity to achieve unsurpassable enlightenment. The Bodhisattva Basket says:

For those who practice generosity, achievement of enlightenment
is not difficult.

The Cloud of Noble Jewels Sutra says:

Generosity is the enlightenment of the bodhisattva.

The Householder Drakshulchen-Requested Sutra alternatively explains the virtues of generosity and the faults of not giving:

A thing which is given is yours; things left in the house are not. A thing which is given has essence; things left in the house have no essence. A thing which has been given need not be protected; things kept in the house must be protected. A thing which is given is free from fear; things kept in the house are with fear. A thing which is given is closer to enlightenment; things left in the house go in the direction of the maras. The practice of generosity will lead to vast wealth; things left in the house do not bring much wealth. A thing which is given will bring inexhaustible wealth; things left in the house are exhaustible. And so forth.

II. Definition. The definition of generosity is the practice of giving fully without attachment. The Bodhisattva Bhumis says:

A mind co-emergent with non attachment —
With that motivation, fully giving things.

III. Classification. Generosity has three classifications:

A. giving wealth
B. giving fearlessness, and
C. giving Dharma.

The practice of giving wealth will stabilize others’ bodies, giving fearlessness will stabilize others’ lives, and giving Dharma stabilizes others’ minds. Furthermore, the first two generosity practices establish others’ happiness in this life. Giving Dharma establishes their happiness hereafter.

IV. Characteristics of Each Classification.

A. Giving Wealth. Two topics describe the practice of giving wealth:

1. Impure giving, and
2. pure giving.

The first should be avoided, and the second should be practiced.

1. Impure Giving. Furthermore, there are four subtopics under impure giving:

a) impure motivation
b) impure materials
c) impure recipient
d) impure method.

a) Impure Motivation. There are wrong and inferior motivations. First, generosity with the wrong motivation is giving in order to harm others, giving with a desire for fame in this life, and giving in competition with another. Bodhisattvas should avoid these three. The Bodhisattva Bhumis says:

Bodhisattvas should avoid giving in order to kill, fetter, punish, imprison, or banish others. And bodhisattvas should not exercise generosity for fame and praise. And bodhisattvas should not exercise generosity to compete with others.

Inferior motivation is generosity motivated by a fear of poverty in the next life or a desire to have the body and wealth of gods or humans. Both should be avoided by bodhisattvas. It is said:

Bodhisattvas should not give with fear of poverty.

And:

Bodhisattvas should not give to attain the state of Indra, a universal monarch, or Ishwara.

b) Impure Materials. Other impure generosity practices to be avoided are explained in the Bodhisattva Bhumis. In an abbreviated way, the meaning is: to avoid impure material substances, a bodhisattva should not give poison, fire, weapons, and so forth, even if someone begs for them in order to harm oneself or others. The Precious Jewel Garland says:

If that which helps is poison,
Then poison should be given.
But even if a delicacy will not help,
Then it should not be given.
As when one is bitten by a snake
Cutting the finger can be of benefit,
Buddha said that even if it makes one uncomfortable,
Helpful things should be done.

You should not give traps or skills for hunting wild animals and so forth to those who ask — briefly, anything which can harm or cause suffering. You should not give your parents nor pawn your parents. Your children, wife, and so forth should not be given without their consent. You should not give a small quantity while you have great wealth. You should not accumulate wealth for giving.

c) Impure Recipient. To avoid impure recipients, do not give your body or pieces of your body to the marakuladevata demons, because they ask for this with a harmful motivation. You should not give your body to beings who are influenced by the maras, insane, or who have disturbed minds, because they don’t need it and don’t have freedom of thought. Also, a bodhisattva should not give food or drink to those who are gluttons.

d) Impure Method. To avoid impure methods, you should not give with unhappiness, anger, or a disturbed mind. You should not give with disdain or disrespect for an inferior person. You should not give while threatening or scolding beggars.

2. Pure Giving. There are three subtopics under pure giving:

a) pure material,
b) pure recipient, and
c) pure method.

a) Pure Material. The first has two divisions: inside wealth and outside wealth.

Inside Material. Inside materials are those related to your body. The Narayana-Requested Sutra says:

You should give your hand to those who desire hands, should give your leg to those who desire legs, should give your eye to those who desire eyes, should give your flesh to those who desire flesh, should give your blood to those who desire blood, and so forth.

Those bodhisattvas who have not fully actualized the equality of oneself and others should only give their whole body, not pieces. Engaging in the Conduct of Bodhisattvas says:

Those who lack the pure intention of compassion
Should not give their body away.
Instead, both in this and future lives.
They should give it to the cause of fulfilling the great purpose.

Outside Material. Outside materials are food, drink, clothes, conveyances, child, wife, and so forth according to Dharma practice. The Narayana-Requested Sutra says:

These are outside wealth: wealth, grain, silver, gold, jewels, ornaments, horses, elephants, son, daughter, and so forth.

Householder bodhisattvas are permitted to give all the outer and inner wealth. The Ornament of Mahayana Sutra says:

There is nothing that bodhisattvas cannot give to others–
Body, wealth, and so forth.

A monk or nun bodhisattva should give everything except the three Dharma robes, which are not allowed to be given. Engaging in the Conduct of a Bodhisattva says:

Give all except the Dharma robes.

If you give your Dharma robes, it may cause your benefit for others to decline.

b) Pure Recipient. There are four recipients: recipients with special qualities, like spiritual masters, the Triple Gem, and so forth, recipients who are especially helpful to you, like your father, mother, and so forth; recipients who are special due to their suffering, like those who are patients, unprotected, and so forth; and recipients who are special because of their harmfulness, like enemies and so forth. Engaging in the Conduct of a Bodhisattva  says:

I work in the fields of excellence, benefit and so forth.

c) Pure Method. The methods of generosity are giving with excellent motivation and giving with excellent action. The first is practicing giving for enlightenment and sentient beings’ benefit, motivated by compassion. Regarding giving with excellent action, the Bodhisattva Bhumis says:

Bodhisattvas exercise giving with devotion, respect, by their own hand, in time, without harming others.

“With devotion” means that a bodhisattva should be happy in all the three times. He is happy before he gives, has a clear mind while giving, and is without regret after giving. “Respect” means giving respectfully. “By their own hand” means that when you have wealth, that is the time to give. “Without harming others” means not harming your entourage. Even though it is your own wealth, if the people around you come with tears in their eyes when you give something away, then do not do it. Do not give wealth that has been robbed, stolen, or cheated–that which belongs to others.

The Collection of [the] Abhidharma says:

Give repeatedly, give without bias, and fulfill all desires.

Offering the Body: A Practical Approach

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Western Chod”

Then I began to examine parts of my body.  I thought to myself, “Well, if this absolute nature is the only thing that makes sense, if this absolute nature is the only thing that seems precious and worthy and noble to me, and everything else that I find in this cycle of death and rebirth seems chancy at best, even when it ends happy, it seems to me that it’s nothing to take safety from.” So I examined like that. What about my body?  I take a lot of safety from body. After all, if I didn’t have it, where would I be?  So I examined my body, and I tried to examine it piece by piece so that I wouldn’t leave anything out.

I remember that I started with my feet. I thought that it was best to start down and work up. So I started with my feet. I really tried to do this purely, and this is my recommendation: If you want to practice in this way, try to do this as logically and purely and as dispassionately as possible. You won’t be satisfied with your practice if you don’t really cover all the bases. It is really necessary to go deeply into this.

So I thought about my feet. I thought, “Well, what can my feet do? What are they good for?”  Well, I like shoes a lot. They can wear shoes. So that’s one good thing that feet can do. I can wear shoes that match my outfit. Isn’t that wonderful? Yeah. So what’s the next thing that feet can do? Feet can walk. So if my baby’s crying and he needs me, I can use these things to walk over and pick him up and help him. This is good. Feet are good. We are getting good now. Feet are good. They have toenails on them. We can paint those. They can match my outfit, too. More good news. So what else… We can roller skate with feet. I am personally addicted to foot massage. So we have that. That’s a good thing. Feet can take me anywhere I can go within reason. Within walking distance, feet can take me. They press the pedals on the car. Feet are good for that also. It sounds silly. I went through everything I could think of that feet were good for.

Then I thought to myself, “Well considering all the sufferings in the world, considering what I have thought about already, what I have contemplated, what is it that feet can’t do?”  Well, if my child became very ill, really ill, there’s nothing that my feet can do about that. In a way they could contribute. They could maybe carry him to a doctor, but ultimately they can’t really do anything. Then I thought to myself,”Well, if I saw somebody suffering right in front of me, what could my feet do?”  Well, they could contribute again. They could take me to that person, but ultimately my feet don’t solve any problems.

I thought to myself, ”Well, these things are really limited then. I really kind of developed a feeling of “so what” about my feet, like non-attachment, like it didn’t seem to me like I should feel about this part of my body as though I were attached. So I thought to myself, “Well, if these feet are so limited, what would be better?  What would be better here instead of my feet?” I thought to myself, “If somehow that absolute nature, if somehow that primordial wisdom nature were here in this place instead of these feet, that would be something. That would be something.”

I would actually meditate on my feet, and I would go from the skin to the muscle to the tissue inside of it, to the bones, down to the very cellular level. And I would think, “This I offer to this absolute nature; and I pray that in exchange somehow the blessing of that nature would be here and that where I am, there would be some comfort in the world.” I used to pray that. And every single day I would pray that with such longing because I took time to meditate on the faults of cyclic existence and the nobility and the blessing of that primordial wisdom nature, and I could see the difference. I was so moved. Here in this world there is nothing of that. There’s only the ordinary stuff. I would pray so hard I felt like this whole thing is on my shoulders. I really took this responsibility for everything. I just prayed so hard that somehow this absolute nature would be here.

I felt like I completely renounced my feet. I looked at my feet and they looked like something else. They became to me very foreign. Suddenly I looked at my feet, and I thought, “I’ve given them up. I don’t own them anymore.” If someone were to say to me, “Would you walk over here to help me?” There’s not even any point of saying yes or no. I’ve already offered my feet. They’re going to do it. So I feel this sense of non-attachment, or the realization that my feet are nothing to cling to.

I would meditate like that until I felt really satisfied that I had given these things up. Sometimes it would take a couple of days. Sometimes it would take a week. Sometimes it would take a month for just one element. And I would go from my feet to my ankles to my legs to my torso to my upper body and my head, as well as different external circumstances of my life. Like, for instance, my car. What good is my car?  What can it actually do?  Drive. Big deal! What can it actually do to benefit the world? That kind of thing. I thought like that.

I would spend this whole time of preparation simply getting ready for what I didn’t know. I really didn’t have a sense of what the work was going to be, but I knew that this was the truth and that it had to be done this way. I really knew that what I was meditating on was the absolute truth.

So I went through all the different parts of my body. In each case, everyday I would not be satisfied to stop my practice until tears had come to my eyes. Sometimes I would really cry. I would sometimes cry for the condition of other sentient beings, or I would sometimes cry that this primordial nature is so noble and yet none us have awakened to it. It seemed so pitiful to me that we are so close yet so far away to this nobility that is our true nature. Sometimes I would cry about that. Sometimes I would just cry as a kind of offering.

I would offer my feet. “Please accept my feet. Please don’t let this be all there is. Please don’t let this be the whole story. It can’t be where we leave ourselves. It just can’t be like this.” So I was crying, “Please accept these feet as an offering. Please, in exchange, let that absolute nature be here.” I would never be satisfied with my practice until I was actually crying or I felt that I had really understood to the depths of my heart that this was the way it had to be, and that this was a kind of necessary generosity that was performed for the sake of beings.

 Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo All rights reserved

The Excellence of Bodhichitta

The following is respectfully quoted from “The Way of the Bodhisattva” by Shantideva:

15.
Bodhichitta, the awakening mind,
In brief is said to have two aspects:
First, aspiring, bodhichitta in intention:
Then active bodhichitta, practical engagement.

16.
Wishing to depart and setting out upon the road,
This is how the difference is conceived.
The wise and learned thus should understand
This difference, which is ordered and progressive.

17.
Bodhichitta in intention bears rich fruit
For those still wandering in samsāra.
And yet a ceaseless stream of merit does not flow from it;
For this will rise alone from active bodhichitta.

18.
For when, with irreversible intent,
The mind embraces bodhichitta,
Willing to set free the endless multitude of beings,
At that instant, from that moment on,

19.
A great unremitting stream,
A strength of wholesome merit,
Even during sleep and inattention,
Rises equal to the vastness of the sky.

20.
This the Tathāgata,
In the sūtra Subāhu requested,
Said with reasoned demonstration,
Teaching those inclined to lesser paths.

21.
If with kindly generosity
One merely has the wish to soothe
The aching heads of other beings,
Such merit knows no bounds.

22.
No need to speak, then, of the wish
To drive away the endless pain
Of each and every living being,
Bringing them unbounded virtues.

23.
Could our fathers or our mothers
Every have so generous a wish?
Do the very gods, the rishis, even Brahma
Harbor such benevolence as this?

24.
For in the past they never,
Even in their dreams, conceived
Such profit even for themselves.
How could they have such aims for others’ sake?

25.
For beings do not wish their own true good,
So how could they intend such good for others’ sake?
This state of mind so precious and so rare
Arises truly wondrous, never seen before.

26.
The pain-dispelling draft,
This cause of joy for those who wander through the world–
This precious attitude, this jewel of mind,
How shall it be gauged or quantified?

27.
For if the simple thought to be of help to others
Exceeds in worth the worship of the buddhas,
What need is there to speak of actual deeds
That bring about the weal and benefit of beings?

28.
For beings long to free themselves from misery,
But misery itself they follow and pursue,
They long for joy, but in their ignorance
Destroy it, as they would a hated enemy.

29.
But those who fill with bliss
All beings destitute of joy,
Who cut all pain and suffering away
From those weighed down with misery,

30.
Who drive away the darkness of ignorance–
What virtue could be matched with theirs?
What friend could be compared to them?
What merit is there similar to this?

31.
If they who do some good, in thanks
For favors once received, are praised,
Why need we speak of bodhisattvas–
Those who freely benefit the world?

32.
Those who, scornfully with condescension,
Give just once, a single meal to others–
Feeding them for only half a day–
Are honored by the world as virtuous,

33.
What need is there to speak of those
Who constantly bestow on boundless multitudes
The peerless joy of blissful buddhahood,
The ultimate fulfillment of their hopes?

34.
And those who harbor evil in their minds
Against such lords of generosity, the Buddha’s heirs,
Will stay in hell, the Mighty One has said,
For ages equal to the moments of their malice.

35.
By contrast, good and virtuous thoughts
Will yield abundant fruits in greater measure.
Even in adversity, the bodhisattvas
Never bring forth evil–only an increasing stream of goodness.

36.
To them in whom this precious sacred mind
Is born–to them I bow!
I go for refuge in that source of happiness
That brings its very enemies to perfect bliss.

Relative Bodhicitta: HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche

His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse

The following is respectfully quoted from “Enlightened Courage” by His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche:

If I do not give away
My happiness for others’ pain,
Buddhahood will never be attained.
And even in samsara, joy will fly from me.

Enlightenment will be ours when we are able to care for others as much as we now care for ourselves, and ignore ourselves to the same extent we now ignore others. Even if we had to remain in samsara, we should be free from sorrow. For as I have said, when the great Bodhisattvas gave away their heads and limbs, they felt no sadness at the loss of them.

Once, in one of his previous lifetimes, the Buddha was a universal monarch whose custom it was to give away his wealth without regret. He refused nothing to those who came to beg from him, and his fame spread far and wide. One day, a wicked brahmin beggar came before the king and addressed him, saying, “Great king, I am ugly to look upon, while you are very handsome; please give me your head.” And the king agreed. Now his queens and ministers had been afraid that he might do this, and making hundreds of heads out of gold, silver, and precious stones, they offered them to the beggar.

“Take these heads,” they pleaded. “Do not ask the king for his.”

“Heads made of jewels are of no use to me,” the beggar replied. “I want a human head.” And he refused to take them.

Eventually they could no longer deter him from seeing the king.

The king said to him, “I have sons and daughters, queens, and a kingdom, but no attachment do I have for any of them. I will give you my head at the foot of the tsambaka tree in the garden. If I can give you my head today, I shall have completed the Bodhisattva act of giving my head for the thousandth time.”

And so, at the foot of the tree, the king took off his clothes, tied his hair to a branch, and cut off his head. At that moment, darkness covered the earth, and from the sky came the sound of the gods weeping and lamenting so loudly that even human beings could hear them. The queens, princes, and ministers all fell speechless to the ground. Then Indra, the lord of the gods, appeared and said, “O king, you are a Bodhisattva and have even given away your head, but here I have the life restoring ambrosia of the gods. Let me anoint you with it and bring you back to life.”

Now, the king was indeed a Bodhisattva, and even though his head had been cut off and sent away, his mind was still present, and he replied that he had no need of Indra’s life-restoring ambrosia, for he could replace his head simply by the force of his own prayers.

Indra begged him to do so, and the king said: “If in all those thousand acts of giving my head away beneath the tsambaka tree there was nothing but the aim of benefiting others, unstained by any trace of self seeking–if I was without resentment or regret, then may my head be once again restored. But if regrets there were, or evil thoughts, or intentions not purely for the sake of others, then may my head remain cut off.” No sooner had the king said this than there appeared on his shoulders a new head identical to the first, which had been taken away by the brahmin. Then all the queens, princes, and ministers rejoiced and administered the kingdom in accordance with the Dharma.

For those who can practice generosity like this, there is no suffering at all. Enlightened teachers, Bodhisattvas, come into the world to accomplish the welfare of beings, and even when they are ignored by people in the grip of desire, anger, and ignorance, who stir up obstacles and difficulties, the thought of giving up never occurs to them and they are totally without anger or resentment. As it is said:

To free yourself from harm
And others from their sufferings,
Give away yourself for others;
Guard others as you would protect yourself.

The Challenge of Generosity in the West

The following was a spontaneous teaching offered by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo:

Jetsunma on Generosity in America, May 6, 2012

Jetsunma was speaking about His Holiness’ first trip to the United States in 1985

In the beginning when His Holiness came to America, he was angry that people charged for empowerments and for dharma teachings.  He was particularly angry when we did, because we were one of his centers, and he didn’t like that.  Then we explained to him, “Then we will have to close the doors, because we not only have a monthly mortgage but we are taking care of nuns, and doing all the things that KPC does, which costs at least $9,000 a month [in 1985]. There is no other way to make it.  We don’t have any large gendoks.  We are not like you who can get these large gendoks.  We have no gendoks.”  And he started thinking about it, and he said, “Well, I guess this is kaliyuga.  And if you have to, you have to.”

So that is when we were permitted.  There was no other way to keep the doors open.  It was his first visit to the United States, and he really didn’t understand what we were up against, and how proud and opinionated people are here.

People take these things for granted and think that you should do it out of the thin air without supporters.  Are you somehow supposed to magically sell a finger every so often so that you can pay for this?  Those people never started a center.  Those people never started a Temple.  Those people don’t feed the ordained.  Those people don’t feed poor people.  They sit in the ivory tower and they get their special teachings and they don’t pay for them.  They don’t make an offering.  It’s sick.  They make it all about themselves.  What about the lama that conferred it?  Sure you fed him.  But what is he supposed to get home on?  What’s he supposed to start his next event on?

We have to be generous, and in this country that’s the only way that you can, because there are no major donors or at least not for us.  In some cases a gendok will pay for everything, because they understand the merit, and they understand what’s going to be in their next life.  They understand that they are going to have Phowa done for them.  They understand a lot more than we do, especially about merit.  And so a lot of the really great gendoks who have lots of money, pay for everything.  Can you imagine that merit?

I wish I could do that.  I wish I could not only run this place, but pay for it too.  Wow.  But then I want to feed the poor and save all the animals.  Save the whales and the planet.  Japan.  And that’s why I don’t have a nickel to my name.  They hardly make nickels anymore.  They don’t mean anything.  Used to be you could buy a candy bar with them.

Oh well, it is what it is, and we will do what we can do to sally forth.

Listen to the teaching here: Challenges of Generosity in the West

© copyright Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo All rights reserved

This Is Your Temple

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Bringing Virtue Into Life”

When you give money to the temple, do it because you need to, not because we need you to.  Do it because you understand that you are the one that needs to practice the generosity.  That’s your medicine.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that your root guru or your lama is the one that needs the temple.  It’s completely false.  It is not the lama that needs the temple.  It’s the students that practice there.  This is not my temple in Poolesville, Maryland.  This is your temple in Poolesville, Maryland.  You should take pride in its cleanliness.  You should take pride in its prosperity.  It should embarrass you when the bills are not paid here.  It should embarrass you when things are not going well at the temple—when there is not enough participation, when we can’t find someone to cut the grass—because this is your temple.  This is your house.  Spiritually, you live here.  This is for you.  If you could just get that one small truth and take responsibility for your practice whether it’s the karma yoga of engaging in protecting your temple, propagating the teachings, making this place firm, pure and safe for others to come and practice, or whether it’s the meditational yoga of actually engaging in sit-down practice in order to benefit sentient beings, or both.  Hopefully you’re doing both, because that’s what is needed.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Deepening on the Path: The Importance of “Caring”

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called, “Bringing Virtue into Life”

If your eyes are open at all, you have seen that you have often boxed your own ears, that you have often hurt yourself by engaging in non-virtuous activity that has brought you suffering.  Maybe you’ve had time to see a little bit of that.  But I’ll tell you that according to the Buddha’s teaching, and this is the truth, every bit of non-virtuous behavior that you have engaged in will bring about unhappiness. So it’s not logical to engage in non-virtuous behavior and that includes the lesser non-virtuous behaviors.  The big ones like killing, we can get that.  Killing, stealing, that sort of thing, but what about simple selfishness?  What about judgment of others?  What about just not giving a big flip?  Not caring?  What about reading the newspaper and thinking “Wow millions of people are starving over there.  Too bad.”  You don’t think that’s a non-virtue?  That’s how we read the paper, every day.  Of course that’s a non-virtue. We’re not caring.  We’re not praying for them.  We’re not sending them anything.  We’re not doing anything to help.

The Buddha also taught us that virtuous behavior brings about happiness, but we have exactly the opposite idea.  Most of us don’t like to practice, for instance.  We don’t like to sit down and practice.  Who likes to sit down for two hours at a stretch?  I don’t know about you, but I get fanny fatigue big time.  Two hours at a stretch.  That is not how I want to spend the day.  So we think like that.  We think “Oh, you know, if I sit down today and practice for two hours, I’m really going to suffer!”  So we have this weird idea that virtuous activity like practice is going to bring about unhappiness, and it’s because of our lack of understanding.  What we don’t realize is that yes, while we have maybe the antsy-ness or the fanny fatigue or whatever it is that we get, ultimately that two hours of practice will ripen. And when it ripens it will be like a precious jewel within your life.  At some point there will be an event or a change or a lift or a gift or something that you very much need in your life. It will appear as though out of nowhere. and it can be directly traced to previous virtuous behavior.

The Buddha also teaches us that if we offer even something, if we’re very poor and all we have is something simple like a candle or a butter lamp. If we offer only that, placing it on an altar and with a full and generous heart visualize it as being everything that we have, everything that we could ever have and offer it to the Buddha and the Dharma and the Sangha and particularly to the Lama as the representative of all three, then let that merit be used to benefit sentient beings.  What we don’t realize is that while that took some time out of our busy day, yes, and we did have to prepare a butter lamp or light the candle or whatever hardship we had to engage, still we have created unbelievable happiness for ourselves. Actually, the Buddha has taught that if we could manage to make that offering with complete and total absorption in the expanse of that generosity, then we would be reborn eventually in unmovable samadhi, complete happiness, because we are engaging in the kind of activity that creates the habitual tendency of supreme generosity.

We are taught also to make offerings of our body, speech and mind.  For instance, we visualize that our body becomes like food and we offer our bodies.  Of course, we don’t cut off pieces of ourselves.  Nobody would want to eat that anyway, I don’t think. But we do visualize our body as being transformed into this nectar that nourishes all sentient beings, and without holding on to ourselves, we offer ourselves in that way. So we offer our bodies to benefit sentient beings.  We offer our speech to benefit sentient beings.  We practice so that what comes out of our mouth will be of benefit to others, such as mantra or teaching about Dharma or some spiritual advice.  We try very hard to give our speech to benefit sentient beings. And we offer our minds as well to benefit sentient beings.  We make that offering. The way that we practice that offering is by no longer using our mind as a vehicle by which to accomplish nonvirtue. Instead we use our mind as a vehicle by which to accomplish virtue for the sake of sentient beings. That is the true meaning of offering our body, our speech and our mind.

Many practitioners unfortunately say that.  They say “I offer my body, speech and mind” and they make all kinds of grand gestures but, boy, when it comes down to the clinch, they ain’t offering nothing, and that’s the truth.  Not a thing.  It isn’t happening.  So we, as Dharma practitioners, have to learn how to practice more deeply than that in order to assimilate the causes for true happiness.  It is that kind of virtuous activity that we have to engage in.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

Offer It Up


An excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo from The Spiritual Path

We never lose sight of how we feel. We are always monitoring ourselves. We want to feel free of suffering, free of stress. Sentient beings strive endlessly to be happy, so it is very difficult to achieve a sustained, sincere practice of generosity. Think what you have done over the last 24 hours. Work? Practice? Television? Family time? Social obligations? Was your first and foremost thought to benefit sentient beings? Or were you doing things to strengthen your ego in some way, to make you feel better? Mostly the latter, I think. Even our Dharma activity is often done to make us feel better about ourselves—to make us feel busy, wanted, necessary, energetic. Or, perhaps, spiritual, holy, and pure. We always have our selfish purposes, so it is difficult to be generous.

How should one be generous? How should we think about generosity? To begin with, we should not consider phenomena something we can have or not have, something that attracts or repels us. We should view all phenomena as a pure celestial offering that we can actually make to the Three Precious Jewels. We should view our entire world as an exquisite, vast celestial mandala. We should think of phenomena as Mt. Meru, surrounded by its beautiful continents. We should think of all sights, smells, sounds, sensations as precious jewels that we offer to the Three Precious Jewels themselves. It is a more profound version of what we do in our Ngöndro as mandala offering. The deepest way to engage in the practice of generosity is to offer one’s environment continually. But how many of us do that?

Think, for instance, about the way we react to food. We eat food with desire. We taste it with lust, more lust than we think. Shopping for food, we want the best apples, don’t we? The purest, the finest. We want the best carrot cake, the best vegetables. We even lust after color. Our eyes, our feelings are drawn to it. We think we look good or bad in a certain color. We perceive color with attraction or repulsion. All our senses function like that. Actually, generosity should be practiced in such a way that we offer the very senses that we have. But do we offer our taste? Our hearing? Well, we might say that. But we can’t wait for the next sound, the next taste. We cling to our existence as a sentient being, a feeling being.  We long for the next touch, the next sight. When you go for a walk, what do you do? You look at the flowers and trees. You sniff the air, smelling everything. The senses are yours. And you have no idea of offering, no intention of offering them to the Three Precious Jewels. And yet, that would be true generosity.

What is the basis of that generosity? How can such an offering be of benefit? You may think: “If the Buddha wanted my taste, my sight, my hearing, my touch, he’d get his own! A truly enlightened being can manifest all kinds of incredible siddhis, or powers. So why do I have to offer this phenomenal existence to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas?”

Well, why do you have to do that? There’s a real logic behind it. How long are you going to have your senses? You’re going to have sight until your eyes go. Even if your eyes last until the end of your life, they will die when your head dies. You will only have touch as long as you have skin to touch with. Your perceptual experiences will not outlast your body. So what are you holding on to? The traditional teaching says that at the time of death, we cannot take with us so much as a sesame seed. You take only your cause-and-effect relationships and habitual tendencies. So if you have clung to your experiences, establishing your particular neuroses at every moment, that is what you will continue to do in the bardo. If it has been your habit to look for approval and to gather things, situations, people around you for that purpose, you will not be able to take any of that into the bardo. All you will have is the habit of that longing, that desire—and the karma you have engendered from reacting to that need.

How much better to practice generosity—to offer your five senses and all phenomenal existence to the Three Precious Jewels. Why? You create a stream of merit. Offering is one of the major ways to accumulate merit, and that merit can be dedicated to benefit sentient beings. In fact, you can visualize yourself and all sentient beings offering the five senses, offering consciousness itself as we know it. You can think of all sentient beings gathered together with you making offerings of the three thousand myriads of universes purified into a precious jeweled mandala.

What is the value of such an offering? It cuts to the bone. It is so profound that it transforms the entire perceptual process. This deep level of offering pacifies our habit of clinging to cyclic existence. It purifies our self-absorption and selfishness, and we can offer the merit to the countless beings who are themselves constantly involved in selfishness and self-absorption, unaware that they can make any offering at all.

Unfortunately, we are afraid. If we offer something, the Buddha might take us up on it. If I offer the experience of being the mother of my beautiful daughter, maybe they’ll take her away. If I offer all my clothing to the Three Precious Jewels, they might take that away. We fear that something will be lost to us. But you can see that this is a product of our delusion. Our experience of phenomena depends entirely upon karma. As our karma becomes more purified, more virtuous, as our minds become more spacious, more relaxed—our experience can only be better. Suffering only happens due to clinging and desire. In our delusion, we continue to lust after experience, and that lust continues to cause our suffering.

The practice of generosity is an antidote to all that. There is literally nothing to hold on to and no one to do the holding.    Everything you have ever experienced—all you will ever experience—is the result of the condition of your mind. Why not then practice this deep level of generosity? Why not view phenomenal existence for what it is? You will in the end, anyway. You’ll see it disappear before your eyes. At the time of your death, you will see the elements disappear, dissolve. Whether or not you will recognize what is happening is another story. (You may merely pass into unawareness, and that would be for one reason only: you lived in unawareness.)

© Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo

Examining Cause and Effect in Real Life

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo called “Bringing Virtue Into Life”

You may have been born rich, or perhaps during the course of your life it has been relatively easy for you to make money, gain riches. Or perhaps during the course of your life, at some point you have inherited riches. And you wonder to yourself, “How is it that I hear about the starving poor and yet I, who wasn’t even hungry in the first place, have inherited this money, or I have this money? How is it?  It would seem as though I am completely undeserving.  How has that happened?”  You wonder about that.  “Why is it easy for me to make money?”  Well, the reason why it is easy for you to inherit that money or to make that money is because some time in the past you have earned it; and the way that you have earned it is by engaging in virtuous activity concerned with generosity toward others.   If you have given food to others, in this life you always have enough to eat, and more.  In fact, the problem is not eating too much.

So then, if you have a lot of money and things have been pretty comfortable for you, then sometime in the past you must have been very generous toward others, and your big problem in this lifetime is not how to make money but how to spend it, or not spend it.  In that case, you deserve everything that you get.  You deserve all of it.

Now, in this lifetime, if you just take that money and express through it no acts of generosity,… Let’s say maybe you keep it in your family to make sure that your children are provided for.  Well, that’s a kind of generosity.  You did give some to your children, but that isn’t real generosity, because children are kind of like an extension of our own ego.  We think of them as part of us.  We don’t think of them as being separate from us. We like our children to be rich because it’s a good reflection on us and it makes us die happy.

But let’s say in this lifetime, although you have lots of money, you haven’t really given any to benefit others.  You haven’t helped others not to be hungry.  You haven’t given it to children that don’t get any toys as Christmas.  You haven’t made any offerings to the temple where you receive all your spiritual benefit.  You haven’t done anything with your money.  If you think then that you’re going to somehow be able to legally make it happen that they’ll find you in your next incarnation and give you back that money,… Au contraire, monsieur.  You can’t take it with you.  It’s not going to appear again in your next life.  Forget it!  It’s not going to happen.  But in your next life you will probably be born much poorer because, even though you had the money before, you were not very generous.

So it’s very, very clear that cause and effect are interconnected.  In fact, the Buddha teaches us that they arise interdependently: When the cause arises, the effect arises at the same time, but in seed form.  Think about that.  Think about that the next time you have non-virtuous behavior.  One of the reasons why it’s so easy to be non-virtuous is because you think, “Well, O.K., I’m being non-virtuous now, but I don’t see the effect rising yet.  So maybe they…(Who are they anyway? We don’t know.) they’ll forget about it. “ You know, the guys with the x’s and the checks. They’re up there.  They’re sitting on the throne. You know, the guy with long beard.  Maybe he’ll forget about it by then.  But in fact the Buddha teaches that, number one, there is nobody with a book up there, or a beard. And number two, when you give rise to the cause, the effect is already born, and you will experience it.  You will experience it.

Copyright © Jetsunma Ahkon Norbu Lhamo.  All rights reserved

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